While I was gone to the big city and didn't pay attention, look what happened. North Carolina's Land for Tomorrow is looking for our help to save our land.
Pat McCrory released his proposed budget Wednesday. It includes significant
cuts in spending for the state's land and water conservation trust funds.
The creation and consistent funding of North Carolina's conservation trust funds have been the result of bipartisan leadership over the past 25 years. These land protection successes have played a major role in the state's economy - boosting agriculture, the military, tourism, forestry, hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.
- Cuts the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to $6.75 million from $10.75 million, which is a 37 percent cut, and only provides funding for the first year of the biennium
- Reduces the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) to $15.5 million from $27.5 million, which is a projected 44 percent cut.
- It reduces the Natural Heritage Trust Fund (NHTF) to $4.23 million from $9.9 million, which is a projected 58 percent cut.
- Removes the dedicated source of funding for PARTF and NHTF over the state's next budget cycle and leaves the state with no reliable way to conserve treasured lands in the future.
- Maintains the current funding level of $1.7 million per year for the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.
The next step in the budget process is for the state Senate to begin writing its version of the budget.
This will happen around the same time as our Lobby Day, taking place on March 27th in Raleigh. I went to Lobby Day in 2011 and it was an eyeopener.
Considering this budget announcement, your participation is now more important than ever. Click here to register for Lobby Day on March 27th.
Land for Tomorrow is asking all conservation minded North Carolinians to remind our governor about land and water conservation.
North Carolina has four state funds to protect land and water quality. They have done so much to fund land easements, save farm land and even help the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
We need to ask him to:
* Appropriate $40 million per year in recurring funds to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.
• Maintain the dedicated revenue sources for the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and oppose any diversion of those funds.
• Appropriate $5 million to the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.
These trust funds are not supposed to be used for general state expenses. But that's what's going to happen if we don't speak up.
Now Land for Tomorrow and other conservation groups think that the only language that legislators understand is revenue minus cost. All these funds have saved North Carolina money and brought in tourism and that's great.
But why doesn't clean water sell? What are you going to drink? It reminds me of an old bumper sticker "Drink wine. The water is polluted." Do we really want to drink soft drinks because we don't trust our water?
And where are middle-class folks going to recreate, if not in our awesome state parks? The parks don't charge admissions and have soft-core adventure, suitable for all ages.
So, get to Pat McCrory by writing to him at:
Office of the Governor
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301 Phone: (919) 733-5811 or
I'm sure that those of you who keep up with changes in Western North Carolina trails know that the trailhead to Horsepasture River has changed. My first hiking guide, Hiking the Carolina Mountains, is being reprinted again and I have to update this hike.
So I checked it out. Gorges State Park is getting a new visitor center soon and has a new loop road.
Now onto the hike.
Previously, hikers parked at Gorges State Park and walked on the road to the entrance to Nantahala National Forest.
Now, there's a brand new trailhead in Gorges, Grassy Ridge. Like all state parks, this trail is immaculate. It's lined with pebbles, for less erosion.
We hit four waterfalls.
Rainbow Falls and Turtleback (see the top photo) are the most popular because they're right on the trail. At the far end of the trail, you can only look at Drift Falls through a screen of Private Property signs. And if you keep a sharp eye out for a trail wand, you'll find a sign to Stairway Falls - see the picture to the left.
The most difficult one to reach, Windy Falls, is down a trail in Nantahala Forest that is no longer maintained. It's a 1,000 feet down, which means a 1,000 feet back up. Several blowdowns block the trail. A couple of people died when they slid down the rocks. So this waterfall is not recommended.
But you have four beautiful waterfalls all in 5.1 miles and 1,000 easy feet of ascent. You can't ask for anything more.
Is is possible to write about Dupont Forest without showing pictures of its marvelous waterfalls?
Yesterday I led a Carolina Mountain Club hike to Dupont Forest. Above is our group after having walked almost 11 miles. And they're still smiling.
We stopped at five waterfalls, two cemetery and Imaging Lake. Yet I chose not to taken any waterfall pictures. I don't think I'm blaze of their beauties but I noted other things.
Logging. Hikers have trouble accepting that Dupont Forest is a State Forest, not a state park. So logging is allowed. I don't think they clearcut but they log. And that's OK with me.
Danger signs. What they have borrowed from state parks are all the "danger signs". It's as if the waterfalls are going to grab a visitor and take them down. If you admire the waterfalls from the trail, it is not dangerous. Yet, I've seen international visitors take the sign literally and turn around from approaching the waterfall.
And what is this?
For years, I've seen this piece of metal on Thomas Cemetery Road.
Yesterday, someone pointed out that it was part of a gate latch. There were some cables on the opposite tree. Good deduction.
Dupont Forest is always beautiful but it's more than waterfalls.
We all know Upstate South Carolina as a good place to hike in the winter. The views are great, the waterfalls are plentiful, and spring flowers come early.
Scott Lynch has managed to distill 20 hikes for families in his new book Family Hikes in Upstate South Carolina (Milestone Press, $14.95 list price). All the hikes are less than four miles length. But hikes with children (and that's what family hikes are) need more than just easy hikes. They need a hook, a reason for hiking. It reminds me of a joke:
A child was promised that he was going to be taken hiking this weekend. He knew that his parents loved hiking and now he was big enough to go hiking too. So they bought him a pack, a small water bottle, a couple of snacks and off they went. The trail in the woods was enclosed by trees and the family walked. After a little while, the boy asked "All we're doing is walking. When are we going to start hiking?"
Kids won't be asking this when they go on the Hagood Mill Nature Trail (pg. 50). This 0.75 mile trail around the Pickens County Museum has a covered bridge and an old mill. Not bad for less than a mile.
I turned to a familiar hike (pg. 100) in Cowpens National Battlefield. My visit to Cowpens was all about the history of the Revolutionary Battle. But of course, National Park Units are perfect for short hikes and full of exciting history. [The British came from this way, the Patriots from the other way...]
The book has plenty of information to help parents choose a hike - maps of the hike and trailhead, GPS coordinates of the trailhead, mileage and difficulty and highlights of the hike and several black and white pictures for each hike. This light paperback can be stuffed in your pack or back pocket. This will be perfect for choosing hikes with my younger granddaughter
Now all I need is another book with longer hikes. My older granddaughter is growing up!
Family Hikes in Upstate South Carolina is available from Milestone Press, wherever good books are sold, and of course, from Amazon.
While I was busy worrying about including EarthShare in the Asheville City employee giving program, a blog reader alerted me to another problem. A commission is looking into closing our North Carolina State Parks in the winter to save $2.4 million. The headlines said "millions of dollars" but the details show only 2.4 millions. They're also talking about the possibility of closing cultural resources and state museums. Look at this report.
Are they serious? I don't know but we better take them seriously.
The legislature ordered the study last year to determine whether the state could save money by consolidating administration "and to suggest optimal operating schedules for sites." This was the first that I've heard about this study. It certainly did not make the Asheville Citizen-Times. Why has the media in the mountains been so silent about it?
We, in Western North Carolina, are blessed with Federal lands, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah National Forest, which cannot be closed. The Blue Ridge Parkway is closed for various reasons in the winter and therefore Mt. Mitchell State Park is also often closed as well. We also have Chimney Rock State Park.
But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be outraged. Parks in the Piedmont and the Coast provide good winter recreation for millions when facilities are legitimately closed for winter weather in the Mountains.
So what would it mean for the folks walking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail? Even if we accept that Mt. Mitchell would be closed in the winter, the potential closures would mean no access to:
The subcommittee will report back to the committee in March with potential recommendations for the full committee. The full legislature would have to approve any changes. This is the time to write to your North Carolina state representatives and state senators.
If the State really needs the 2.4 million dollars, why not charge two dollars a day like they do in South Carolina?
For North Carolina State Parks, 2011 was a great year. Over 14 million people visited the parks. And I certainly did my part.
Because of my Mountains-to-Sea trek, I visited Hanging Rock State Park, Eno River State Park and finished at Jockey's Ridge. I also took my granddaughter camping at Lake Jordan and the family to Mt. Mitchell. Actually my whole MST hike was in a state park.
Surprisingly, Jockey's Ridge had the most visitation. Maybe it's because it's close to several National Park units - Cape Hatteras, Wright Brothers and Fort Raleigh.
The experts gave lots of reasons as to the increased popularity of our state parks. The poor economy means that people are staying closer to home. State parks are for the most part free.
But state parks are also perceived as the safest place to go outdoors. They specialize in soft-core adventures. So their trails are well-marked and well-maintained. Signs are accurate and up-to-date. State Park rangers offer a lot of programs for the family. And if anything is up to snuff, they close the particular resource.
In Western North Carolina, hikers are sometimes guilty of ignoring state parks. They're so small and "wimpy" compared to National Parks and Forests. But for most people, in and out of North Carolina, state parks is their access to nature.
You can look at the attendance figures at
Chimney Rock State Park is growing - slowly.
The state's purchase of land around Rumbling Bald Mountain will expand Chimney Rock State Park by more than 20 percent.
The N.C. Council of State will pay the Nature Conservancy $4.2 million for 1,222 acres at Rumbling Bald, which is just north of Chimney Rock in Hickory Nut Gorge.
The tract includes Rumbling Bald Mountain, with its massive rock face visible from Lake Lure, steep cliffs, granite domes and a mature hickory forest. The state park now comprises more than 5,700 acres.
This sounds wonderful but it's going to take a long time. The master plan for Chimney Rock State Park calls for development of three day use areas in phases over the next 20 years. The Rumbling Bald area, which has a great hike and is also popular with rock climbers, is to be developed in phase three.
Twenty years! And there are always delays.
Sometimes a hike is just a hike. No agenda, nothing to check out or scout or write about. So Wednesday, after it had rained hard for a couple of days, I went on a Carolina Mountain Club hike to Mt. Mitchell.
The drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway was through a sea of color, awash with yellow, brown, green, red and other parts of the spectrum. Only five people had ignored the weather and started the bushwhack up Potato Knob. We walked on the Boundary Trail, an unmaintained trail that must have been maintained at some point since it had a name. It was slow going but the rewards were worth it. See the picture above.
We came out on a private road near Clingmans Peak with its transmission towers. The field also had two private cabins. No one was sure who the cabins belonged to but some thought that the transmission towers were for a religious radio station in Black Mountain. Whoever wrote the sign on the cabin couldn't even bother to spell "mountain" correctly.
We came out on the road at the ranger station and continued on the Old Mitchell Trail.
It was steep and wet with precarious footing. But we got to the top of Mt. Mitchell without driving or being driven in a golf cart by a ranger.
The folks that were driven all got out of the golf cart and proceeded to walk up the ramp with no problems.
We went down the MST and Buncombe Horse Trail back to the cars, still congratulating ourselves for making the right decision to get out on the trail.
Why would any hiker want to leave Western North Carolina? We have the highest mountains in the east and the best parks and trails.
On Friday, we hiked the Edmonds Trail in Black Rock Mountain SP. The park is touted as the highest state park in Georgia, reaching a high of 3,640 feet. I know, some of you live at a higher altitude. But as we gazed out at the top of Lookout Mountain on the trail (only 3,162 ft.), we realized that it's not the absolute height that counts. It's the drop into the valley that counts - and it was impressive. See the top photo.
We then drove to Unicoi and checked in. Lenny and I and a few others camped while the rest of our group had rented cabins. Like most state parks, at least in the south, the campground was impeccable - tent site, picnic table, fire ring which we used to make a fire to go with our pot luck dinner on Friday evening.
The next day, we hiked up to Raven Cliffs Falls in the Chattahoochee Forest. I had gotten this recommendation from Jim Parham who wrote the book Waterfalls Hikes of North Georgia, published by Milestone Press.
The trail hugged the creek and passed several good waterfalls before ending at an impressive rock and cave. See the picture to the right.
The falls are in the slit between the rocks and doesn't show too well in the photo but was very obvious in real life. I'm sure that better photographers - especially photographers willing to spend the whole day there - would have gotten a different photo.
We walked into Helen, a mountain town, that made up a Bavarian theme to attract tourists - and it worked. This was Octoberfest in Helen and the people spilt over the sidewalk into the street carrying beer mugs on a string around their necks. I settled for a frozen yogurt.
By Sunday, some of our group left, others went to do their own hike. But for those who stayed, we were rewarded with an amazing walk in Tallullah Gorge State Park.
This park, created to highlight the waterfalls in the gorge, is partly (mostly??) funded by Georgia Power. The interpretive center is outstanding, the trails are manicured and the 1,052 steps that we walked were solid.
Sunday, yesterday, was also my birthday - a big, eventful birthday. As I climbed up the steps, I passed several people stopped on the steps huffing and puffing; they were all younger than my son. I really resisted saying to them - "Hey what are you going to be like when you're my age?"
The three parks were worth the weekend but Tallullah Gorge is worth another trip. It's a two-hour drive from Asheville but if you're going to walk the whole loop, including the steps, it may be worth the drive.
I took my granddaughter camping this weekend at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area. It was the easiest, tamest type of car camping there can be but it was quite an adventure for both of us. It was her first camping trip and it was the first time I camped just for the sake of camping since her father was her age - eight years old.
It didn't matter where we went but I chose Jordan Lake just outside of Chapel Hill when it was still 90 degree and sweltering. I pictured lots of swimming and I requested a campsite by the lake.
By the time we got there on Saturday, it was 60 degrees and drizzling. We had lunch and put up the tent. She was a great help in holding the tent because I couldn't put it up by myself. When children are given real work to do, they shine and she realized that this was real.
"Let's get the tent up before it really starts pouring.
But it didn't really pour. We hiked on a trail in the Poplar Point campground. A group of kids were in the water and I couldn't really say that she couldn't go. So she put on shorts, a T-shirt over her bathing suit and her water shoes and she played in the water. She lasted 15 minutes and her stuff was still wet the next day.
But camping to her was all about making S'mores and I wasn't going to disappoint her. I'm not good at making a real fire but I bought fire started and charcoal impregnated with lighter fluid. I brought lots of newspapers and of course, the S'mores fixings. This turned out to be a $30 marshmallow roast.
I didn't buy bundles of wood because a bundle was just too heavy. We scavenged around the campsite but the place was well picked over. The fire lasted long enough to toast several marshmallows and make the S'mores. [If her parents are reading this, yes, we did have a real dinner before that - backpacking pasta primavera.]
It drizzled on and off all night but it was dry by the time we got up. The tent was soaked but it had stopped raining.
As we broke camp, a female ranger drove past and waved. I asked her to stop and have Hannah meet her. I didn't catch her name but the ranger made a great impression on her. The ranger explained that she carried a gun but that they send you for all types of training. She was a good, attractive role model.
We bundled up and went on a longer hike at another campground at Lake Jordan.
As with most state parks, the trail was well marked. She's a motivated walker but everything interests her. She counted rings on a tree stump. She marveled at every mushroom - and with this rain there were lots of mushrooms. She was upset (and so was I) about the garbage left by boaters on the beach.
Like most newbies, she overdressed first thing in the morning. By midmorning, she was in a T-shirt and had partially unzipped her pant legs. I excused her from carrying a pack and I was carrying her entire wardrobe, it seemed.
But she liked it all, even with the rain and the anemic fire. Next time, we'll try another North Carolina State Park.